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Schools Getting A Passing Grade?

<B>Scott Pelley</B> Reports On The Great Divide In America's Schools

Imagine dropping your kids off at an old schoolhouse built in 1896, where rain pours through the ceiling, and walls literally crumble. It's a school in America, and in some ways, it's not all that unusual.
Most public schools support themselves largely with local property taxes, and that creates huge disparities -- new buildings in one district, ancient facilities in the next.

That 1896 schoolhouse that Correspondent Scott Pelley visited is in Dillon, S.C., and the man struggling to keep it open is District Superintendent Ray Rogers.

"I'm not a finance director and I'm not a Philadelphia lawyer. But I can tell there's a whole lot of in between as far as these school districts in South Carolina," says Rogers. "And we know we are at the bottom. We don't have to ask anybody."

That's because in Dillon, the property is almost too poor to tax. The tobacco and cotton economy is dying on the vine. So that 19th century schoolhouse that opened just 30 years after the Civil War is today the school through which every child in the district must pass. 60 Minutes Wednesday talked to Rogers in the abandoned auditorium.

"When you're on the school bus and you look across those seats and you see the faces of those children, who do you see?" asks Pelley. "Who are these kids?"

"You see poor kids with a lot of hope that when they're younger you see all the bright eyes," says Rogers. "As they get older, more reality sets in, the older kids, a lot of them, you see the despair."

The reality of Rogers' six schools is that all are crowded and some have crumbling walls and saturated ceilings. When it rains outside, it rains inside, too.

Every day brings difficult choices among reading, writing, arithmetic and repairs. Rogers upgrades the old school house from time to time, usually after a crisis, like the day the ceiling fell in.

He's run new wiring so they can plug in computers now, but he had to sacrifice the auditorium (too expensive to fix) and he's cutting back on teaching. The music and art budgets are down 30 percent, and there'd be almost no money at all for sports if it wasn't for ticket sales. Football tickets cover 80 percent of his entire sports budget.

In middle school, there are no science labs or foreign language classes. And teacher salaries are among the lowest in the state.

Alyssa Richardson is an eighth grader in the old schoolhouse. "There is mold growing up on the sides on the walls and everything. Insects, roaches, ants, rats," says Richardson.

Freight trains also shake the old school and its students twice every hour. Here's where you see just how close Richardson is to a better opportunity. If she hopped this train, it would take only minutes to cross the divide. Forty miles southeast, and 100 years ahead, is a school in Horry County, built in 2003.

"We've built 19 new schools in the past seven or eight years," says Gerrita Postawalte, superintendent of Horry County schools. Her new classes have the latest, science labs with wireless Internet, foreign language in middle school and an orchestra program.